by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Elk River has never seen a more remarkable run of success in any sport than boys tennis has generated from 2007 through 2012, which may be its best season yet.
The one athlete contributing all six years is Mitchel Brandell, 121-33 in his career after a pair of doubles wins to start the season this week.
“I’ve played on some really good teams all six years, but this is probably the best one,” acknowledged Brandell.
That’s saying quite a bit, as he has never experienced a conference or section loss by the team his whole career. The Elks are 113-20 overall and 47-0 in conference during his years on varsity, and have placed third, fourth, fifth and sixth at state.
Brandell broke in as a tiny seventh-grader on a 25-1 team and has matured to 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds with a wicked serve and fierce aggression at the net.
“Mitchel has a big left-handed serve that’s very difficult to handle,” said coach Randy Ronning. “That’s his best shot. And he loves to attack.”
Brandell has played behind even more formidable players older than he is (Kent Nichols, Jeremy Thompson, Brendan O’Connell) and now younger (freshmen Josh and Sam Gearou) so Ronning has the luxury of deploying him at one-dubs or the lower singles.
Brandell was 13-2 at 3D in seventh grade, playing a small part as the Elks placed fifth in the state, then 21-5 in eighth grade, 21-15 in ninth, 30-6 as a sophomore, and 34-5 as a junior, mostly at 3S but capped by a section doubles title with Ryan Ness.
“As good as Mitchel is in singles, he is better in doubles,” said Ronning. “As good a doubles player as you’ll find in the state.”
Brandell was a sickly child who got better at around age 12 and remains on several meds. Ronning thinks that’s why his focus sometimes strays during singles, but not doubles, because “he’s always got someone to keep him focused.”
Brandell has a solid 9-8 ledger in state matches — 4-4 in singles and 3-2 in doubles in team, and 2-2 in individual doubles.
Twice at state tournaments he’s notched the lone victory in 6-1 losses to the champion, against Edina in eighth grade with Andy Nyquist and against Eden Prairie in 10th grade with Josh Chuba. “He loves that big stage,” said Ronning.
This year he’ll be at 1D or 3S except when the Gearous are playing doubles, when he’ll get a shot at one or two singles.
Realizing that he’d be No. 1 on many teams, Brandell reflects, “There’s times I think it would be really nice to play ‘one,’ but I know being at ‘three’ makes our team much better. I’m happy with that.”
A one-sport athlete — he loved hockey, too, growing up, but tennis won out — he’s on the court “seven days a week” throughout the year. He started in second grade when his dad, Kim, took him and sister, Allison, to hit every evening for about three hours. (Ali, four years older, played in three state tournaments with the Elks and is currently No. 1 for St. Benedict.) Kim whisks the kids away on tennis trips each winter, most recently taking Mitchel to Indian Hills, Calif., for a pro tourney.
Brandell wants a career in tennis. He’ll attend Tyler (Texas) Community College to play for a strong program and take golf management and teaching pro courses.
THE BRANDELL SCORECARD
Personal data – Age: 18 …. Family: parents, Kim and Donna; sister, Allison, 22 … Sport: tennis … Academics: 3.2 GPA … College plans: Tyler (Texas) Community College, tennis, golf management and teaching pro courses
Favorite stuff – Class: food occupations … TV show: “30 Rock” … Movie: “Forrest Gump” … Food: Chipotle fare, especially chicken burrito bowl … Drink: water … Teams: Wild, Twins … Athlete: Rafael Nadel … Kickback: playing golf … Would like to visit: Spain, and Rolland Garros